May 19, 2017
TACS LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
With 10 days left in the 85th Legislative Session, tempers are at a fever pitch. Differences in ideology, methods of governing, and beliefs about the responsibilities of the state set the two chambers on a collision course from the start. This week, these simmering conflicts, heated further by the pressure of finishing the session on time, came to a boil. Watching the shenanigans, I couldn’t get the image of a sandbox out of my mind. Two kids and a teacher are at the sandbox. Let’s hypothetically call them Joe, Dan, and Greg. There is only one toy and it means different things to each of them. They need to agree on a plan soon, or they are going to miss naptime and snack, as they have to stay until they work it out. Low-key Joe points out that everyone wants naptime and snack, so he offers to share and compromise. He says, “Let’s take turns.” Drama Dan gets mad and starts yelling across the playground and says “if you don’t let me have the toy all the time, I’m going to make us stay here forever.” Then he grabs the toy and threatens to hit Joe over the head with it. Greg, the shy new teacher who doesn’t want to get fired, usually sides with Dan, in part because he knows Dan is a bully and he’s just a little bit afraid of him. Greg says, “Hey guys, I want us all to have naptime and snack time, and I’m sick of watching you two in here, so let's get done. Joe, why don’t you just give Dan the toy and we can go get some cookies.” As of Thursday afternoon, they are all still in the sandbox with Dan clutching the toy and threatening to hit Joe over the head with it and they are getting hungry and sleepy. Sadly, at the Capitol, the stakes are higher than who gets a toy, as these adults have been elected to care for and lead the great state of Texas.
Here is a bare bones timeline of the week’s sandbox fight:
Monday, May 15th, Speaker Straus sent a polite and formal letter to Lieutenant Governor Patrick thanking the Senate for its hard work and noting that the Governor’s priorities had been addressed and passed in both houses. He said that the House is moving Senate priorities ahead and he hoped that the Senate would do the same for priority legislation coming from the House. The House priorities he mentioned were public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cyber-security, and preserving health insurance for retired teachers. He urged the Lieutenant Governor to work with him to pass the two bills necessary to finish the session on time: the budget bill (SB 1) and the Sunset bill (SB 310) which funds the state’s government agencies.
Wednesday, May 17th, Lieutenant Governor Patrick held a press conference in response to the Speaker’s letter. He said that he had laid out 30 priority pieces of legislation, which he called “the people’s agenda” and almost all have already passed out of the Senate. He said that he wouldn’t move the Sunset bill, which is in the Senate’s hands (since a group of tea party mutineers killed 100s of bills in the House last week in a power play, and the Sunset bill got stuck behind them and died in the House) until the House passes SB 2 (which limits cities and counties in raising property taxes) and SB 6 (the “privacy bill” or “bathroom bill”). The Lieutenant Governor said that he would ask the Governor to call a special session if these two bills aren’t passed. (Remember the clock is ticking louder and faster all the time.)
The Lt. Governor also addressed the House’s school finance bill (HB 21), which the Senate poisoned by adding a special education voucher into the Senate committee substitute. He said that if the house were to accept ESAs and facilities funding for charters, he would allow A-F to be delayed until 2019. Those are some tough demands for a house that has already voted NO on vouchers.
The Governor then weighed in, confirming that he expects property tax reform and restroom legislation to be passed, but saying that he believes the House and Senate can do that before the end of regular session.
Speaker Straus also released a statement saying, “Governor Patrick talked about the importance of property tax relief. The Texas House is concerned about property taxes, which is why we approved HB 21 to address the major cause of rising property-tax bills: local school taxes. As it passed in the House, this legislation would begin to reduce our reliance on local property taxes in funding education. Nobody can claim to be serious about property tax relief while consistently reducing the state’s share of education funding.” “Lt. Governor Patrick’s threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope he reconsiders. The best way to end a session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want. But we can come together on many issues and end this session knowing that we have positively addressed priorities that matter to Texas.”
So… they are still in the sandbox for now and I’m sure they are getting tired and hungry. I know which kid I’d rather play with in the sandbox, but alas, we don’t always get to choose. (Except at election time.)
Education bills that have made it to the Governor’s desk:
SB 7: Relating to inappropriate student-teacher relationships was a priority for the Governor. This week, the Senate accepted the House changes and sent it to the Governor May 16th to sign into law.
A handful of education bills are close and we are watching with fingers crossed:
SB 826: Revises the sequencing requirements for English Language Arts and Math to provide more flexibility for students and districts. This bill passed both houses unanimously and should be sent to the Governor soon. We are hopeful this bill will become law.
SB 463: This bill continues the Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) for two years. While Senator Seliger’s original SB 463 was unanimously voted out of the Senate Education Committee with the IGCs as a permanent option, the Senate leadership would only hear the bill if the new 2-year sunset was added on. In the Senate, the bill was also amended to make the IGCs available to students who were to have graduated under the TAKS system. SB 463 passed out of the Senate, and was heard and voted out of the House Public Education Committee early this week. We are hopeful that it will be heard soon in the House. This bill is a priority for the House sponsor, Chairman Huberty, and we believe he will work hard to get this bill passed and to the Governor.
Many key bills are in trouble:
HB 21: This hard-crafted school finance bill would have done many great things for public education, including injecting $1.8 billion dollars, adding a dyslexia weight, creating a glide-path landing for ASATR districts, and much more. However, the Senate substitute for this bill added in Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for special education and 504 students, doesn’t add the additional funding included in the House bill, and provides ASATR adjustment for a far more limited group of districts. Lt. Governor Patrick has also said he wants to add facilities funding for charters into this bill. Based on a poll of TACS Legislative Committee members, over 95% agreed the voucher addition made the bill unsupportable. All public education groups have switched from supporting the original bill to opposing the Senate substitute. Rumor has it there is no salvaging this bill, so it is on life support and likely to soon be dead. What a shame.
HB 22: Again, this great House bill revising A-F is getting taken down. As I write, I’m watching the Senate hearing on this bill. HB 22 was a collaborative effort of the many stakeholders and provided many improvements over the A-F system as passed last session and interpreted in the “mock” grades shared
Past Legislative Updates